The idea came to Jason DeVan early one morning.
He bolted up at 3 a.m. and shook his wife Heather awake.
“We are going to do a movie called ‘Tell me your name,’” he announced. The epiphany lasted all of five minutes but the very next day the couple sat down and hammered out a 12-page treatment for the film.
At the time, the DeVans who have been married for 18 years, were making the usual rounds in Hollywood, acting and working on other projects but they were ready to make a bold move.
With their three kids in tow they relocated to Atlanta, co-founded their production company and got to work.
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On Aug. 10, their film, now named “Along Came the Devil,” will open at select theaters including the Plaza Theater in Midtown, as well as release to video on demand and digital HD.
Billed as “an exorcism for a new generation,” the film stars Sydney Sweeney (”Handmaid’s Tale”) as Ashley, a teen who is sent to live with her estranged aunt Tanya (Jessica Barth of “Ted,” “Ted 2”). Upon returning to her hometown, Ashley begins having visions of her deceased mom but when she and a friend try to make contact with the spirit world they invite in demonic forces that threaten everyone around them.
For the DeVans, making the film has meant three years of grit, grace and hard lessons which they had the pleasure of enduring in the area where Heather, a native of Lilburn, was born and raised.
“We wanted to come home for a little while,” said Heather. We knew it would take a village...and we wanted to surround ourselves with loved ones.”
Filmed on location at Lake Lanier, Flowery Branch and Buford, the film is Jason DeVan’s twist on the many horror films he watched in college while working as a clerk in a video store.
Heather met Jason when she was 21, the year she moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting and he made her watch every horror movie known to mankind, she said.
After more than two decades in the industry, they knew it wouldn’t be easy to make their first film. Jason gave his elevator pitch to anyone who would listen. The duo kept at it until they found someone who believed in their project as much as they did.
As director, Jason had a near complete vision of how he wanted to execute the story inspired by a Brazilian family who had experienced demonic possession.
“I was such a big fan of The Exorcist,’” said Jason DeVan noting that films about exorcisms often follow a similar formula. “We wanted to leave the audience with the feeling that they haven’t seen that before. I wanted to leave them trying to piece it all together in their minds.”
The DeVans relied on interviews and research with religious leaders who had experienced exorcisms when crafting the roles of Bruce Davidson (X-Men) and Matt Dallas (Kyle XY) who appear in the film as demon fighting priests. “To hear a priest tell you it made him question his own faith...that is how we got some of the ideas about the things that have shaken them to the core,” said Jason DeVan.
While Atlanta continues to battle Los Angeles for the top movie making location, it wasn’t always easy to for the DeVans to secure filming locations for a movie about demons.
For the church scenes, they wanted the authenticity of a church but that proved to be a challenge in metro Atlanta. Most churches were less than thrilled about the idea of filming an exorcism in their houses of worship. Some churches asked if they could make changes to the script, said Jason DeVan.
They ended up shooting at a location in downtown Buford, an old church with a basement that had been converted into an Irish whiskey bar.
One early morning at 2 a.m. when they were filming an exorcism in the church, the cops showed up. Concerned residents heard the ruckus and called authorities. “They ended up sticking around. They watched it and they enjoyed it,” Jason DeVan said.
But as the couple would learn, the hardest work began after they finished filming.
Jason DeVan wanted to go old school with practical effects -- special effects produced without computer generated imagery or other post-production enhancements -- but ended up finding a team to to enhance the effects when the film was completed.
They made the rounds of several film festivals including the Atlanta Film Festival and Cinequest Film Festival from which they acquired Gravitas as the film’s distributor.
The project also taught them more about working together as a team.
“I always say to Jason it is a good thing you are my best friend because we work together, live together, we are married, we do everything together,” said Heather DeVan who also starred in the film as the mother of the beleaguered teen. “There are times where we have to step back and say we are business partners.”
“Heather will tell me if I get out of hand. She asks me would you talk to me that way if I were your business partner and not your wife?” said Jason DeVan.
Already the DeVans are at work on their next project -- a psychological thriller about a child kidnapped first by his father then by a serial killer -- and they have carried the most important lesson they’ve learned with them.
“Listen to our gut,” said Heather DeVan.
Jason DeVan agreed, “Everyone has an opinion and you want to trust the opinions of people you really trust but you have to be careful because when you believe in something you have to stick to your guns.”